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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 July 2005, 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK
Iraq's catalogue of death
By Robert Greenall
BBC News

There has been no bigger grey area in the Iraq conflict than the number of ordinary Iraqis killed and injured.

More than 1,700 US and dozens of other coalition troops are known to have died. But the figures for civilian dead had never been more than rough estimates, ranging wildly from 10,000 to 100,000.

US forces in Falluja
The report says 37% of deaths were caused by US-led forces

Figures for the injured and for people killed in what has been described as a surge in criminal activity since the invasion were simply unavailable.

A report by the UK-based group Iraq Body Count (IBC), in combination with the Oxford Research Group, says it aims to remove some of the uncertainty by producing the most detailed picture yet of civilian casualties in the two years since the 2003 invasion.

The goal of the IBC is to fill the information vacuum, it says, with a comprehensive analysis of over 10,000 press and media reports.

It describes the death toll as the "forgotten cost" of the decision to go to war.

But some critics have questioned the groups' methods of compiling statistics, and indeed the ability to produce reliable data. The Iraqi government has already responded by describing the report's results as "mistaken".

The US and UK governments, meanwhile, have always maintained that chaos in the war-torn country has made it impossible to gain accurate information.

'Few excuses'

Middle East analyst Toby Dodge told the BBC that reports like this were bound to be sketchy.

"It's on the conservative side, if anything it underestimates the casualty figures," he said.

The report attempts to show that Western governments are at least partly wrong in their assertion that counting bodies is futile.
Our data has been extracted from a comprehensive analysis of over 10,000 press and media reports... Our accounting is not complete: only an in-depth, on-the-ground census could come close to achieving that
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"Nearly two-and-a-half years on, neither the US or UK have begun to systematically measure the impact of their actions in terms of human lives destroyed," Professor John Sloboda, one of the authors of the report, said.

"Our report has shown that what is lacking is not the capacity to do this work but the will."

The internet has proved an essential tool for the research, Professor Sloboda adds.

"This is in fact a new type of research on war and its effects, research which would have been impossible to conduct without the World Wide Web and search engines," he said.

'Higher concentration of death'

The report - A Dossier on Civilian Casualties in Iraq, 2003-2005 - provides a grim catalogue of death and injury.

Shock and awe invasions using massive air power and overwhelming force caused a far higher concentration of deaths, injuries and child fatalities than even the intense insurgency we are experiencing now
Professor John Sloboda
Author of report

A total of 24,865 civilians were reported killed in the first two years of the conflict, beginning with the invasion, almost 20% of them women or children.

This means approximately one in every 1,000 Iraqis has been killed since March 2003.

The report's assertion that 37% of deaths were caused by the US-led forces may cause dismay among Western governments, especially as only 9% are attributed to insurgents.

But even if another 11% attributed to "unknown agents" is included in the second figure, the report says coalition forces are still the main cause of death.

The US-led coalition maintains that it has never targeted civilians, while insurgents quite clearly do.

Professor Sloboda accepts this argument, but says the dossier's data proves that precision-guided weapons - even if targeted elsewhere - do far more harm to civilians than hand-held firearms.

"Shock and awe invasions using massive air power and overwhelming force caused a far higher concentration of deaths, injuries and child fatalities than even the intense insurgency we are experiencing now," he said.

"This is a fact which must be taken on board if hearts and minds are ever to be won back."

Child victims

The report builds up a picture of who the victims were - where and when they were killed or injured, what weapons were used against them and by whom and - where known - what their names, professions, genders and ages were. The result suggests that no sector of Iraqi society has escaped violent death.

Scene of recent attack in Baghdad
Almost half of all recorded deaths occurred in Baghdad
Some conclusions make especially sober reading - for instance that children made up almost half the victims of air attacks, but only 6% of those from small-arms fire.

Unexploded ordnance such as cluster bombs have proved the most lethal for children, because of their curiosity about foreign objects.

The report also details the media which reported the casualties and the sources they used - from eyewitnesses to mortuaries - all, it says, rigorously checked by the project's 20-odd volunteer staff.


And while the dossier obviously records well-reported deaths like those from suicide attacks or roadside bombs, it also covers a less-known source of violence - criminal killings.

Only reports of mortuary records have allowed the IBC to reveal the "extraordinary levels" that this form of violence has reached, it says.

Around 14 people died every month in criminal-related violence before the invasion - over 372 more have died every month since.

The dossier has recorded 42,500 wounded (the actual count, not an estimate), but this is based only on reports of deaths where the numbers of injured could also be determined.

It estimates that approximately 12,500 more injuries have gone unrecorded.

Civilian deaths have been reported throughout Iraq
But 77% (19,215) of them occurred in 12 towns and cities
Baghdad alone accounted for almost half of all deaths
Falluja had the second highest loss of life after the capital

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